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  • A.K. Lee

Creating Discipline

If you've been following my blog, you may have noticed in the few interviews that I've conducted that I always ask about my interviewees' creative disciplines or routines. Some people sit down and get right to it; others have to go through a few steps before they can begin. I've yet to share my own writing discipline, so this post is all about me and my process. (All photos here are taken with a spectacularly cheap phone. Also I have to clean my desk.)

I belong to the camp that has to be prepared, and then I slog through my sessions. Rarely do I wake up, full of words and inspiration. On such days, all I need is to get to my notepad or word processor and bam! It's off to the races. Unfortunately, such days are few and far between. More often, I have to push myself to put words on the page. Writing this blog post was a challenge too! However, as the Chinese proverb goes, to ensure success in any task, one must have the right tools.

What helps me is firstly setting up the environment in which I work. We all have our favorite spots to write and mine is my home office. I have a wide 23-inch monitor that I keep at 50% brightness, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, my pencil case, and my notebook where I have some ideas scribbled in (and have tagged those I feel are more useful with Post-It flag markers). I also keep a small bowl of candy on my desk.

On the wall behind my monitor is an autographed print of the Great A'Tuin, signed by Terry Pratchett. I never had the opportunity to meet him, so having this print means a great deal to me, and whenever I feel stuck, I just look up and borrow a bit of Narrativium from the Discworld. Though I wish I'd got the chance to thank him in person, I am glad to have got this little bit of him with me when I write.

Behind my chair, I also have a few house plants and a tabletop fountain that I put together myself (just a bowl, a piece of aquarium driftwood, a mini pump, and a stone I brought home from Taiwan way back when). The plants are a good way for me to rest my eyes from the screen - I just have to swivel around - and the tabletop fountain provides white noise. (Occasionally, I have a cat in the office, but they are content to sit in my reading chair and nap.)

That's for the space in which I write. As for the time, I prefer to write in the morning or at night. In the morning, my brain is fresh but slow, so I work on contracted projects. Afternoons are for running errands, for seeing to the cats and plants, for doing chores, for prepping meals, for duller tasks. Nights are when I feel free to work on my craft when I have the pleasant static of late night silence to keep me company. It does also mean that I require naps in the late afternoon since I wake with the sun, but since Singapore's afternoons are far too hot to think in, I think a nap is a more productive use of my time.

As for pre-writing rituals, I fill a bottle of water or a mug of cold-brewed tea - I make this in advance every two nights in a big jug - and turn on the water feature. Sometimes I listen to music or have a video on. The wide monitor allows me to work with my word processor on one window and my media on another, but I have to be careful not to choose something too interesting. At the moment, British gardening shows have become my go-to videos: they're soothing, interesting without being engrossing, and there are hours and hours of content available.

I always have a general outline for whatever I plan to write. Of course, when the story starts deviating from the plan, I follow along and see where it leads, but writing without planning isn't something I enjoy very much these days. That is why I have a notebook - I scribble all sorts of nonsense in it, so the writing brain will get into gear. Political systems, plant names, backstories, lists... These seldom, if ever, make it into the story I am writing, but they enrich my understanding of the worlds and the characters I create.

And that is my writing discipline! I get my environment ready, I choose a time that suits my personal body clock, I set out a plan on what to write, and I have tools that support me physically. Of course, I always keep a notebook or my phone on or near me - sometimes the ideas come when I don't have access to my writing desk, and it's important to be able to record my thoughts. However, having my space prepared the way I want makes it a lot easier and faster to get in creative gear every day.

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